What’s Possible Through Community Mediation?

Donegal St. resident’s story shows power of mediated conversation

Participating in the gathering at the Donegal St. housing complex, Michelle Strutzenberger and resident Fran Barry.

Participating in the gathering at the Donegal St. housing complex, Michelle Strutzenberger and resident Fran Barry.

A story shared last week by a Donegal St. housing complex resident shows what’s possible through community mediation.

The resident, Fran Barry, shared the story as part of a gathering intended to lay groundwork for a new community mediation program within the Donegal St. housing complex.

Those who participated were asked by co-host Peter Pula what had brought them to join the gathering.

That’s when Fran told her story.

Her brother was dying and the word came that she needed to fly home immediately to be with him. She had a matter of hours to get ready and drive to the airport for a 7 a.m. flight. As she stepped outside in the early hours of the morning, she saw the back tires on her car had been slit. There was nothing to do but call a taxi and try to still make her flight.

That conversation may have changed the course of his life.

Returning from her brother’s funeral days later, the resident learned that it was two young boys from the neighbourhood who had sliced the tires of many vehicles in the area. A social worker was brought in to attempt to resolve the issue among the people in the neighbourhood as an alternative to escalating the concern to the juvenile court.

The social worker asked if anyone would be willing to meet face-to-face with the boys, to share with them the impact of their actions on the lives of those whose cars they had damaged. Though part of her was hesitant, Fran agreed to meet with the youngest of the boys — an 11 year-old — and tell her story of that night.

That conversation may have changed the course of his life. Sometime later the resident was teaching a course at the same school the boy attended and she recalls that every time she arrived he was at the front door, waiting for her, asking to carry her books and spend some time with her.

While the Donegal St. housing complex seems to have a current story that is mostly one of peace, several residents who joined the gathering did express feeling more disconnected from one another than they would like. They at least wished there were more opportunities to socialize as a group, they said.

The gathering may have planted the seeds for some of that to happen as it began the conversation about what it can look like to be a connected community, how conflict is inevitable when people are in relationship and that this new resource, the community mediation program, is in the works.

The mediation program is a volunteer-based initiative to support neighbours in solving their conflicts together. It is described as an approach in which neutral mediators “listen, help people hear each other and turn conflict into connection.”

The gathering was co-hosted by Peter Pula of the Peterborough Dialogues and Marion Little, who is shaping the new-to-Peterborough community mediation program in partnership with the Peterborough Housing Corporation, Peterborough Police Service, and the John Howard Society. The community mediation project has been funded by a grant from the Ministry of Community Safety and Correctional Services.

A follow-up gathering at the Donegal St. housing complex is planned for early in the new year.

Related Story:

Alexander Ave. Housing Members are Community Mediation Pioneers

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  1. I’d love to see conversations opened up at Myrtle Terrace, where our daughter lives. It’s such a beautiful building, in a beautiful part of town, but there is truly no sense of community in the building. Although the current building manager is keen to nurture a healthier environment for the residents, there really is no opportunity for people to come together, to get to know one another. I know that many residents feel lonely because of a lack of meaningful engagement with their neighbours. There is a beautiful community space (Rec Room) that goes unused, a roof garden that is under-utilized, and there are huge corridor spaces that could be used strategically to bring people together, and yet …. the only place where I see people congregating is at the smoking bench. 🙁 Sooooo much potential! So little realization of that potential.

    • Marion Little

      Thanks for your comment Linda and for your interest in this project.

      I’ve been really inspired and encouraged by the quality of connection and community resourcefulness that’s emerging from this dialogue process. Learning about what matters in the community and fostering these kinds of circle discussions is central to developing a Community Mediation program that’s responsive and meaningful.

      The budget to launch this project limits the number of discussion forums we can host between now and March. I’m hopeful that we’ll secure new funding in the spring that will allow us to do more (and we’d certainly keep Myrtle Terrace in mind as a location!).

      In the meantime, please feel free to contact Peter Williams at Peterborough Police Services for more information. He’s the Community Development Liaison and he’s also on the advisory board for the Community Mediation program. Peter is a wealth of knowledge regarding resources for community building. His phone is 705-876-1122 x.290 and e-mail is pwilliams “at” peterborough.ca

      You could also check out some of the activities offered by Peterborough Dialogues on this website.

      You’re also welcome to contact me at the Community Mediation Peterborough office (located in the John Howard Society building). My phone is 705-743-8331 ext 216 and my e-mail is mediation “at” jhsptbo.com


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